Every single time we had to tell her, I dreaded it. I found that whenever we received the news of a relapse, it was the first place my mind went. We would walk through the plan of new chemo drugs she would start and when. I would try to pay attention as best I could but I was always waiting for a break in the conversation when they would say, “Do you have any questions?”
Will she lose her hair?
Inevitably, she would always end up losing it. It was the worst part of it for her in the end. I remember when her hair started to fall out initially…she was only 2 ½ years old. We took clippers to it in the bathroom and she seemed kind of excited about the change. The lack of hair transformed her to another child. Now she was a sick child and now everywhere we went, people would stop and stare at her. Shaving her head was never a good experience for her after that.
The first time was the easiest, but each time after that was hard. We would try to sit and talk with her about what is going on but I knew that she too was waiting for that break in the conversation so she could ask us.
Will I lose my hair?
When we had longer periods of remission it would grow back. She could occasionally get a little bow in it or rock a headband without people looking twice at her. I found it funny when people would tell me they loved my little girl’s pixie haircut. Little did they know that the pixie haircut took about a year to get. One February it finally reached a length she had been waiting for; Grandma could curl it. It looked ridiculous really, but she was over the moon about having anything that could be styled like a princess. Of course, just a month later the cancer returned all through her body and she would lose it again.
When we were told of that relapse it was her birthday. We had just had a big swimming party for her and she was finally living a normal life. A call in the car from her New York oncologist that asked me point blank, “Is she still able to walk?” I was stunned by this question because just yesterday she was swimming like a fish in the pool. But when someone asks you that question, you know the news coming after it isn’t good. It wasn’t good at all. The cancer was all through her body once again. Just another time that Isabella was probably living a life with intense pain but continued to live with it instead of complaining.
It was after that relapse that we decided; if she is going to lose her hair, she can do whatever she wants with it until the last hair falls out.
“I want to have red hair like Ariel.” So that’s just what we did.
For some reason it always made the news of her hair falling out easier to hear for her. I could tell she was upset, but after the news set in she remembered our deal. Off we would go to the salon and transform her once again. She would sit in the chair beaming from ear to ear. I feel like everyone around was breaking down about the sadness of it all, but not Isabella. It was hard for me to be sad for her in these moments because she was so happy.
I think most people now think of her with her red hair. For the last three years of her life she was either bald, working a 5 o’clock shadow or Ronald McDonald red. Most of the pictures we have of her when she was at her happiest is with red hair. It’s how I picture her in my mind too.
So each September for the race, I come in and go red in her honor. I sit in the chair and squirm a little because it makes me go outside my comfort zone a bit, but in the end it’s just a silly thing I do because I know she would love it. Sometimes we would go red together and walk out of the salon hand in hand like twins. Now it’s just me – going red alone…but I know somewhere she is loving it because she knows I’m doing it for her.